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Marquette Women’s Basketball Big East Preview: vs Xavier & vs Butler

One last two pack of games in this rush to start league play for the Golden Eagles.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Xavier vs DePaul David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

If Marquette wants to win the Big East regular season title, they have to get two wins this weekend.

Actually, while that’s probably true, hoping DePaul loses twice in the next 12 games is probably a bit of a steep price. The Blue Demons are 6-0 in league play, while Marquette sits in third place at 4-2. Creighton sits in between the two squads at 5-1, so even hoping for two DePaul losses won’t be enough to get MU the title.

Let’s go at it from this angle: If Marquette wants to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011, they have to get two wins this weekend.

Back on January 3rd, ESPN’s Charlie Creme had Marquette as a #9 seed in his NCAA tournament bracketology. This is largely off the strength of wins over Arizona State (5 seed) and Oregon State (4 seed). The good news is that Creme put this together the day after Marquette lost to Creighton at home, so that’s already factored into the picture. What’s not in there is MU’s ugly performance in a road loss to St. John’s on January 8th.

Thru January 11th, the NCAA’s RPI calculation has Marquette at #33, second best in the Big East behind - DUH - DePaul. Hold steady in the top 40, and an NCAA tournament berth should be headed your way. Creighton and Georgetown are the only other two teams in the top 50, and the Hoyas won’t be long for that world with their 1-4 start to Big East play. St. John’s is thankfully in the top 70 (#69, that still counts) and Villanova sneaks into the top 100 at #96. That’s it for top 100 teams, and you will notice that I didn’t mention this weekend’s opponents. Xavier is #142 and Butler is #201.

Want to make the NCAA tournament? You gotta win these two games. You can’t have these losses hanging on your record, especially not home losses. Marquette’s losses to Green Bay, St. John’s, and Creighton aren’t big deals. Those look like they’ll stand up okay. The neutral site loss to Santa Clara is looming as a bad loss, as the Broncos are clinging to a top 100 spot right now.

Win two home games. That’s all.

Natisha Hiedeman Watch: Believe it or not, the sophomore from Green Bay needs just six made three-pointers to tie Heidi Bowman for the 11th most in a Marquette career. Hiedeman had 68 a year ago and 45 so far this season gives her 113. Bowman finished her collegiate career with 119. Erin Monfre at #10 with 125 is probably out of range for this weekend. The best part about this? She’s still about 80 shy of the top 10 for three-point attempts.

Big East Game #7: vs Xavier (10-6, 2-3 Big East)

When: Friday, January 13, 2017, at 7pm CT
Where: Al McGuire Center
Audio/Visual: The Big East Digital Network on Fox Sports Go has the live and free video streaming & there’s live stats.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB

Marquette has an 8-7 all time record against Xavier. The Golden Eagles won last year’s home contest against the Musketeers to snap a three game losing streak against them.

Things have kind of been a bummer for the Musketeers since about mid-December. They’re 3-5 in their last eight after starting off the year with a toasty warm 7-1 record. That start to the season included a home win over a Michigan team that has only lost to teams that were ranked at the time outside of their trip to the Queen City.

Most of their losses over the last month are explainable. #20 Oklahoma? Gotcha. Visiting Creighton? Sure thing. At home against St. John’s? Apparently the Red Storm are going to challenge for the top half of the league, so okay. The loss to Southern Miss? Not so bad, considering it was the day after the Oklahoma game, and those Golden Eagles are pretty good this year.

Last time out, at home, in overtime to Butler? Not a great loss for the Musketeers, especially considering they led by 12 with 8:38 left to play in regulation and only managed two made free throws in the extra session. That’s a 23-8 run to close the game for the Bulldogs. Not great, Xavier.

Raeshaun Gaffney is the offense for the Musketeers. She averages 16 points a game, third best in the Big East, and the only XU player cracking double digits. She’s also connecting on 44% of her three-point attempts, so the Golden Eagles defense can not allow her to start going off. MU will also have to contend with Maddison Blackwell and Leah Schaefer on the glass, as the senior duo combine to average 13 rebounds per game.

Big East Game #8: vs Butler (5-11, 2-3 Big East)

When: Sunday, January 13, 2017, at noon CT
Where: Al McGuire Center
Audio/Visual: FS1 has the TV broadcast, Fox Sports Go has the streaming, & there’s live stats.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB

Marquette has a 7-7 all time record against Butler, and they’ve won three straight meetings (and seven of the last 10) to even the record.

At one point in non-conference play, the Bulldogs dropped six consecutive games. That’s a pretty good explanation as to how you end up at 5-11 on the year. These are the kinds of things that happen when you stack your non-con schedule with teams from the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, and two from the AAC. It especially doesn’t help matters when you’ve got that schedule with no seniors on your 11 woman roster.

After starting out 0-2 in league play, they’ve bounced back with wins in two of their last three, including that aforementioned thriller of a comeback in Cincinnati in their last game. The Bulldogs were picked to finish eighth in the Big East this season, and if they’re kicking around the .500 mark through five games, that’s doing pretty good, I think. They might be in for some problems this weekend on their trip up to the Lake Michigan area, but you take your small victories where you can get them sometimes.

Tori Schickel might be a problem for Marquette. The Golden Eagles has shown an inability to defend strong inside players in league play this season, with Brianna Rollerson and Jade Walker having instrumental roles in MU’s two losses. Schickel’s 6’1”, and leads Butler in both scoring and rebounding. Her 13.8 points per game is only 13th best in the Big East, one spot behind Natisha Hiedeman, but her .519 field goal percentage is tied for third best in the league with..... Brianna Rollerson. Schickel’s also leading the Big East in rebounding at 10.7 per game, making her the only player in the league averaging a double-double this season. Whatever MU’s difficulty was with Walker and Rollerson, they are going to have to figure it out in order to beat Butler.

The good news when it comes to defending Schickel is that Marquette can basically ignore defending the three-point line. The Bulldogs are connecting on just 27% of their long range attempts, and Alexa Bailey leads the team at 31%. Bailey barely shoots it once per game, though, so even she’s not that much of a threat. Until Sydney Shelton or Kristen Spolyar, their two most likely shooters, connect on three in a row, let them shoot to their hearts’ content and worry about denying the ball to Schickel.